Churchill Downs has “gone dark,” which in the Thoroughbred horse-racing business means the spring meet has ended.
Many of the horses, including the first Triple Crown winner in decades, American Pharoah, have left the famed South End track. But many people are still there, people who work far from the limelight, far from the luxury box seats and suites.
They are the people who toil on the track’s backside; people who racing insiders will tell you help keep the whole business afloat.
And they are people who are often overlooked, overworked and underpaid.
That’s what makes the Kentucky Racetrack Chaplaincy so important. And it’s why the 10th anniversary this summer of the Church of the Epiphany’s efforts to help the chaplaincy are so worthy of attention and praise.
Epiphany is one of about 40 churches — including Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Gregory and St. Edward churches — who help care for the backside workers and their children.
Chaplain Ken Boehm leads the backside ministry, and in a telephone interview last week he noted the importance of the assistance provided by the churches, who represent many area denominations.
“When the horses are away, there are still about 600 people or more, mostly women and children, who live here year ‘round,’ ” he explained.
“We have an interdenominational service at 7 a.m. each Monday and when the meet is running we have Catholic Mass at 10 a.m. each Sunday.”
The Racetrack Chaplaincy of America was formed in 1971 and became active at the Louisville track in the mid-1970s, the Rev. Boehm said.
He became Churchill Down’s first full-time track chaplain in 2003, two years before people at Epiphany launched their effort to help the people of the backside.
Brayton Bowen, a member of the Men of Epiphany, said last week that he was moved to learn more about the needs of those working in the track’s barns and stable areas after hearing the Rev. Boehm speak.
“He spoke at Ascension Lutheran Church and I invited him to speak to the Men of Epiphany,” Bowen explained, also in a telephone interview last week. “Now the entire church has joined in the effort and we have the Epiphany Backside Ministry.”
That ministry held a special “Christmas in July” appeal to support their backside efforts last weekend (July 17 and 18). The money collected helps the Epiphany Backside Ministry provide food for those who spend the entire year at the track. They also buy boots for the men and toys and clothes for children at Christmas time, and the Epiphany efforts have also helped create a “children’s church.”
“It’s a Sunday school-type ministry that’s held in two classrooms on the backside,” Bowen said. “Those classrooms were donated by a local construction company and Southeast Christian Church, and about 80 kids attend the Sunday school.”
Bowen said that there is no effective way to quantify the number of adults and children who’ve been helped by the efforts of Epiphany and other churches over the years. But the people of the Archdiocese of Louisville should take notice of that work, and of the efforts of the other Catholic parishes, too.
“We all come to the track and enjoy the racing and the entertainment, and on the backside there are people who continue to need our help,” Bowen said.
What the churches — Catholic and Protestant — and Chaplain Boehm are trying to do, he noted, is fulfill their Gospel mission.
“We’re trying to feed the hungry and clothe the needy,” he said. And their efforts are worth noting.
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